SMALL TOWNS: Manitowoc residents band together to beautify their neighborhood

Neighbors banded together to reclaim their scenic view of Lake Michigan
Updated: Sep. 15, 2022 at 6:10 PM CDT
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MANITOWOC, Wis. (WBAY) - Over the past decade, a Manitowoc neighborhood has undergone a major transformation. It’s thanks to one man who inspired his neighbors to join him in the effort.

This week in Small Towns, we visit the Lakeside Boulevard neighborhood, now more scenic than ever.

In 2008, after 40 years living and working in Illinois, Dennis Hardy and his wife Debbie decided the next chapter in their lives would be in Manitowoc along Lake Michigan.

“We had been visiting in the area from probably over 30 years as our children grew up, we had good friends in Newton, Wisconsin, and when it came time to retire, we thought we’d want to slow it down a little bit, we were from the Chicago area and it was a little faster pace than it is here and we just loved the area,” says Dennis.

Lakeside Boulevard seemed to be the ideal location, but there was one problem as Dennis soon discovered in talking with one of his new neighbors.

The bluff overlooking the lake was severely overgrown, blocking everyone’s view.

“She said really this has kind of gone south over the years and part of it was the city was on a little bit of a hard time, the late 80′s, early 90′s and they I guess just kind of let it go,” explains Dennis.

So Dennis got busy.

He contacted city leaders asking for permission, that if he recruited neighbors to help him they could do the work to reclaim their view.

With the city on board, Dennis then reached out to Woodland Dunes for advice on a management plan.

“The pieces fell together and it’s just been a labor of love I would think, just to keep it nice, I think if you go through this neighborhood and find out how many nice, hardworking people that care, not only about their own yards, but are willing to work out here, it’s amazing. There were three of us that actually were trained by the city to use power tools and in this case, chainsaws, so there’s rules we have to abide by, safety rules, and for us to go down and do anything we get permission,” says Dennis.

A core group of around 25 neighbors joined forces and work cutting and trimming on the bluff, which spans about a half mile alongside Lakeside Boulevard, started ten years ago.

Today, that’s no longer the case when Mary Jo Kocourek looks east.

“If Dennis wouldn’t have started that, probably we wouldn’t be seeing the lake,” says Mary Jo, who lives just a block from Dennis and Debbie.

Reclaiming the extraordinary view proved to be just the beginning to beautifying the neighborhood.

Several flower beds now line the center of the boulevard.

“Again it was planning with the city, they gave us the parameters to stay away from the sidewalk, they gave us a list of flowers they would like us to put it, naturally all native flowers, so everybody did their own garden, all the flowers are individually put in, paid for, they keep them up. You’ve seen many people with buckets, so yeah, I cheat a little bit, I run a hose over so mine is a little greener right now than most, but I cheat,” says Dennis with a chuckle.

And new this summer, there’s a patriotic feel throughout the neighborhood thanks to 15-foot American flag banners.

“We have the workers and we have the people that can’t work and they want to contribute and we just went door to door, would you like to contribute to our idea and within a month we had 16 flags,” explains Dennis.

“Neighbors came together for the good of the entire neighborhood, not only taking out invasives but planting flowers and collecting money to buy the flags, it was just a neighborhood effort to make our place that we live prettier,” adds Mary Jo.

Over the years, there has been one tiny neighborhood dispute however, thanks to Dennis being a Bears fan.

“Doesn’t go well with my neighbors here, but I get a lot of ribbing and it goes both ways, so tides are going to turn, it might take another 20 years but you know hopefully I’ll enjoy a couple of wins,” says Dennis with a smile.

Aside from that, the neighborhood bond is tight, thanks to a cleared bluff, a constantly maintained beach below, and flags and flowers filling the boulevard.

“No matter where you live, if you get people together and work together and have a common goal, yes, that’s a no-brainer, I don’t want to overdo it with how nice it is, but I’m proud of it, I think people here are proud of it, so that’s my story and I’m sticking to it,” says Dennis.

After spending some time in the Lakeside Boulevard neighborhood, the pride neighbors feel over their beautification efforts is clearly evident, and they say their work will continue for years to come.

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It's been a labor of love for neighbors for over 10 years